This post by Friends of Justice intern Pierre Berastain originally appeared in Huffington Post
By Pierre Berastain
According to the Dallas Morning News, “The Dallas County district attorney’s office said Monday that a sexual assault charge against former SMU student John David ‘J.D.’ Mahaffey was dropped because prosecutors didn’t have evidence to show it wasn’t consensual.” According to the affidavit, Mahaffey forced another student to give him oral sex and warned him, “You better not tell a soul.” In a recorded phone conversation at SMU Police offices, the student tells Mahaffey, “You know I did not want to do that,” to which Mahaffey responds, “I know you didn’t, but we have to say it was consensual or lawyers, parents and the school will be involved.”
In November a grand jury indicted Mahaffey, but now the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office has dropped the charges, indicating that it does not have enough evidence to prosecute him. Mahaffey is a member of the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon and a legacy whose great-great-grandfather was on SMU’s founding committee.
True, prosecuting sexual assault cases on college campuses can be difficult, but something about this story appears suspicious: A grand jury indicts a student from a very wealthy family with tremendous influence in one of Texas’ most prominent universities, but then, at the sole discretion of the DA’s Office, the charges of sexual assault on another male student are dropped. This happens in Texas, and at SMU, a college that found itself on the Princeton Review’s list of the top 12 least LGBT-friendly colleges in the United States last year. And while I make no assumptions about the sexuality of these SMU students, I wonder what message Dallas County sends to LGBT college students when it refuses to prosecute wealthy, white fraternity men who are accused of sexually assaulting other male students. As a gay man who was assaulted in his college years, I hear the message as an invalidation of my assault. I hear a grand jury that wants to bring me justice but a District Attorney who is too scared to touch the case because he might not win it (or because he does not want to take on an influential family).
What could possibly have gone through the District Attorney’s mind when he decided to drop the charges? Where is the possibility of justice for Mahaffey’s accuser?
But alas, now that Mahaffey’s case won’t go to court, one can only hope that this incident sparks a conversation at SMU about privilege, the general treatment of LGBT students on campus and in Dallas and social and/or community factors that might lead someone to force another student to perform sexual acts. Aside from the question of innocence or guilt, this incident should serve as a way for people to ask questions and begin a community transformation. In writing this piece, I talked to some students at SMU who said, “Everyone knew nothing was going to happen to [Mahaffey].” That sentiment bothered me. Students who experience sexual assault should not have to live on a campus where their peers presuppose that “nothing is going to happen” to possible perpetrators. That comment itself should concern SMU administrators and encourage them to facilitate more conversations about sexual assault.